Saturday, 31 March 2018

Review: Human Flow

Ai Weiwei follows the plight of refugees in 23 countries
Refugees are all over the world, but have you ever met one?

Leaving their home is their last resort -- it is not a decision they take lightly. Uprooting themselves, carrying their belongings and traveling to a place by foot or boat or train without knowing what the conditions will be like, how much it will cost -- if they will make it alive -- is very scary.

But this is what has happened to millions of people who fled Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in 2015 to Europe and Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei was there to document it.

He was moved by these refugees and wanted to document their lives and their deplorable situation in Human Flow. For two hours and 20 minutes, he goes to 23 countries and greets, walks and talks to refugees to learn more about their plight.

They include the Rohingyas, Eritreans, Sudanese, Palestinians, Afghanis, Syrians, Iraqis, Kurds. We see them up close, staring into the camera looking frightened and at other times up from above, looking like ants.

They walk for days to get to the border to find it closed
Mixed in between are "talking heads", people from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), political leaders, doctors, volunteers, even a Jordanian princess, explaining how they deal with refugees. Some try to show their compassion, others criticize governments for not doing enough.

I've seen footage of refugees in camps on the TV news, but this is watching them as they walk for hours, carrying all their items with them, or having to try to keep warm and relatively dry in a tent when it's pouring rain, or living in a giant hangar with subdivided compounds filled with bunk beds. Many struggle just to get clean water, let alone food and decent shelter.

You quickly empathize with them and wonder if you could survive such a terrible situation where no government wants to accept them and leaves them to fend for themselves in the middle of nowhere. The refugees feel they have come so far that they can't go back to where they came from.

Living conditions in makeshift tents are hardly clean
Interspersed between the different scenes are facts like the average time someone is a refugee is 26 years. Palestinians have been refugees for over 60 years. Again I would read about their struggle in news stories, but actually seeing their living environment really brings it home.

They can be in the middle of making bread in a factory and suddenly the electricity is shut off. The water is less clean and there is garbage everywhere. How do they endure this for so long?

Some of the images terrifyingly beautiful -- oil refineries in Afghanistan are set on fire as Islamic State retreats. A man with a mask calmly walks in his robes towards the raging fire with billowing black smoke. Or people in Kenya walking along the desert in a dust storm.

Periodically you see Ai in the shot, walking along or taking pictures or videos on his phone (some of it is used). Sometimes it seems odd to see him there, but at other times he offers comic relief, such as exchanging his Chinese passport for a Pakistani one with a refugee, or making chuar, or meat skewers over charcoal.

Refugees from climate change in Kenya cross the desert
But he wants viewers to see that he was there on the ground, unlike political leaders who don't seem to know or care about what is going on, and would rather close borders than receive these people who have suffered so much.

More people need to watch Human Flow to understand what refugees have gone through, and have a better appreciation for their own situations. Having to physically and mentally endure so much and be treated like less than human beings is shocking and sad.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Subdivided Flat = Art

Wander inside and hear an artist talk about what it's like to live in 130sq ft
This week has been quite hectic with the big event, Art Basel on, where the big name galleries presenting big name artists from Picasso and Alexander Calder (very popular this year), to Takashi Murakami (always a favourite) and Cindy Sherman. It's quite pretentious with collectors wearing lots of bling and very deep pockets dropping tens of thousands of US dollars to even millions on art pieces for investment.

Meanwhile an interesting counterpoint is Art Central, a much smaller and accessible show, of which 75 percent are artists from Asia, some very young, others quite established. Many of the works are experimental, and not as polished when it comes to execution.

I literally whipped through Art Central and didn't have much time to slowly walk through it, but managed to see an interesting piece called Pavilion for our living, by Samson Wong and Lam Chi-fai.

It's a socio-political statement about subdivided flats and what it's like to live in 130 square feet. Visitors, one at a time, put on head phones and wander around the rectangular box space as the narrator, an artist, explains where all their furniture is situated and how cramped it is, how difficult it is to fit everything in and how little natural sunlight there is.

However, it's hard to imagine what the room looks like when there are only red laser dots pointing at places like the refrigerator, the bed, bathroom and so on, but little details the artist I listened to, were memorable; she talked about a mouse in her flat and seeing its paw prints, or how her father was dismayed she was living in such a small space and tried to rearrange the furniture when she was at work which irritated her.

My colleague who also listened to the same story felt the installation would have been more powerful, if pictures of the artist's flat were projected on the walls so that we could have a better idea of how it looked inside. The speech the artist made could also have benefited from some editing as some anecdotes were tedious or unnecessary.

Nevertheless, the idea was definitely there and is worth exploring further. In this case, life = art = social statement.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Fact of the Day: 70% Divorces Filed by Chinese Women

More than 70 percent of divorces in China are filed by women
In the age of #MeToo or #mitu in China, it's hard to see how attitudes towards women will change much in this patriarchal society when men believe they have or are entitled to more power than women.

Although Chairman Mao Zedong claimed that "women hold up half the sky", in reality it's not true at all.

In 1986, 460,000 couples registered for divorce, while 20 years later the number jumped to 4.15 million.

A new report that uses divorce statistics from 2016 and 2017 by the Supreme People's Court shows two things. The first is that women filed more than 70 percent of the divorce cases in the past two years, with most couples splitting up after three years of marriage.

The second is that domestic violence was the second most common problem, cited as the major factor in 15 percent of divorces. "Incompatibility" was cited for 75 percent of divorce cases.

Tencent News did a survey in 2016 about the high divorce rates. Some 70,000 internet users gave their responses which found the following: About 60 percent of male respondents had cheated on their partners in a relationship, while it was around 30 percent for women respondents.

Another interesting result was that one-third of male respondents didn't think sex with prostitutes was cheating. What is it then? Having an intimate playmate? A way to work off stress? It's paid so it doesn't count?

Ah, men. Always finding an excuse to have it their way...

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

The Big Reveal

Here's the photographic evidence - Kim Jong-un meeting Xi Jinping
The big news on Monday evening was the possibility that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was going Beijing, as an old dark green train that his father had used previously was pulling up to the train station in the Chinese capital and local residents were told to go away -- nothing to see here.

Kim was whisked to the Diaoyutai guest house for secret talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and as per tradition, the footage was not released until after Kim had left China, which was this morning.

An old train was seen pulling into Beijing on Monday evening
The 33-year-old North Korean leader was dressed in a Mao suit and he looked diligent, taking notes while Xi spoke of the importance of their bilateral relationship. Usually he is surrounded by an entourage of people who are frantically taking notes of whatever he says.

Meanwhile Kim said it was important for him to congratulate the Chinese president on the confirmation of his second term, though effectively he could rule for a long time now that the limits of his term have been lifted.

"He [Kim] said it was his obligation to come to congratulate Xi in person, in line with the [North Korea]-China friendly tradition," Xinhua reported.

In return, North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency described the meeting as "candid", and said Kim thanked Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan for receiving him like a "blood brother".

Kim took notes while Xi talked as a sign of respect
It turns out that China gets to meet the elusive leader first, followed by South Korea and then the United States. This was Kim's first overseas trip since he took power in 2011 and it was clear he would first pay homage to Xi.

This is a reminder of when, thousands of years ago, tributary states, like Korea, would visit Beijing and pay respects by bearing gifts. And now that Xi has accumulated so much power, it makes sense for Kim to do the right thing.

"North Korea, whether it likes it or not, has to take a kneel to China, and to communicate to China that it respects China and it needs China... it cannot do it alone without Chinese support, so this is a very humbling moment for North Korea in a sense," says Graham Ong-Webb, research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Art Basel Sneak Peek

Subodh Gupta's Start.Stop, with tiffins and pots moving on sushi belts
This afternoon I had an opportunity to preview Art Basel and this year was perhaps more commercial than ever. Usually the media have a chance to quickly wander around for an hour or two before VIP clients come in, but today there was no such head start.

Ethereal moving piece by Japanese artist Shinji Ohmaki
Instead at 2pm the doors were flung open -- not without security being hawk-eyed about people carrying backpacks -- and everyone flooded in, reporters and collectors alike into two floors in the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

At about 3.30pm the first sale of the day was already made -- a 1975 Willem de Kooning painting named Untitled XII sold for US$35 million. Throughout the afternoon I saw many well-heeled clients -- or as my colleague liked to call them Beijing Bourgeois Bling -- were talking to gallery staff about pieces they liked, and no doubt prices too.

Bluebird Planter featuring real flowers by Jeff Koons
Another colleague reminded me that many of these pieces sold were prearranged earlier. So much for impulse buying. The fair is really about the business of art, though we did see a few pieces that were interesting.

This year the biggest name is Jeff Koons, and he was showing some pieces, including a massive bird made of stainless steel decorated with real flowers called Bluebird Planter. There were a few large works called Encounters pieces that are meant to be more accessible and usually catch people's attention.

Shinji Ohmaki's Liminal Air Space-Time is like watching fish swim in a tank -- a light white fabric billows gracefully up and down, kind of like a massive jellyfish bobbing in mid-air.

Performance art of cleaning giant bowls and plates
Another Encounters work is Start. Stop by Subodh Gupta, featuring tiffin boxes and pots riding on sushi belts in concentric circles. The artist recalls the fate of the "dabbwallas", the men who would courier these tiffins filled with home-cooked lunches in a rapidly changing urban environment.

Dining is also the theme of Chou Yu-cheng's Encounters piece Refresh, Sacrifice, New Hygiene, Infection, Clean, Robot, Air, Housekeeping,, Cigarette, Dyson, Modern People.

On the platform are giant plastic white bowls, plates and chopsticks and a woman in navy blue overalls wipes them like performance art. In front is a Dyson robot vacuum cleaner that wanders on its own on the stage.

Look up close and they are patriotic Hong Kong pins
On the silly side of things is an Aeron chair spinning inside a plexiglass box, slow then fast, then slow again. It's by American Glenn Kaino, called The Siege Perilous. Uh ok....

Another sculpture looked like an inukshuk, a sculpture of rocks put together by the Inuit that is meant to point the direction to something. But this one here at Art Basel was armless.

At one gallery, there was a pile of gold and red metal things on the floor. I examined it closely to find it was a red flag, and one would immediately think it was from China, but in fact it had a bauhina on the top left corner and below the Chinese characters for "Hongkonger", though the characters were not written nicely...

Looks similar to an inukshuk, right?
In any event, another ho-hum Art Basel for us plebeians. There must be so much to these art works that we just can't understand...

Monday, 26 March 2018

Free Play, What's That?

Allowing children to play on their own fosters creativity and communication
It's pretty shocking when Hong Kong parents claim it's important for their children to have free play, but in reality don't understand what it means.

According to Unicef, free play is letting children play on their own without any instruction -- not the use of electronic devices, or extracurricular activities like sports. During free play, children should have the freedom to do what they want in order to help develop their senses, communication and creativity.

Playing sports does not constitute free play...
However, in a survey the Hong Kong branch of Unicef conducted, 99 percent of 1,029 parents claimed their children had free play time, but 84 percent misunderstood what it was.

Dr Maggie Koon May-kay, chief principal of Causeway Bay Victoria Kindergarten and International Nursery says parents think sports lessons like practicing football constitutes free play.

"A lot of parents have the mindset that they are letting their children play through these activities, but the children have to listen and follow the instructors during these sessions," she said.

Just over half the parents surveyed also thought playing with electronic devices was free play, but that too involves following instructions. Koon says parents should give children at least an hour of free play, and suggested the government improve the quality of playgrounds in the city.

... neither does playing with electronic devices mean free play
Children's lives are so heavily programmed in Hong Kong that it seems almost impossible for them to even have free time once a day, but perhaps only on the weekend. While these children live stressful lives, the ironic thing is that their parents feel bad putting them through it, but believe this is the only way to get ahead in life.

If parents don't even understand what free play is, what hope is there of having children who won't be depressed and be creative and communicative?

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Egg Dishes at Catch

Two poached eggs with smashed avocado on toast at Catch on Catchick
Friends ask me what's good to eat around my neighbourhood but honestly I don't really know because I don't eat out much in the area. As I eat out a lot for work, I'd rather just have a simple meal (ie bland) at home.

But this past weekend a good friend from Beijing stayed overnight and wanted to take me out for breakfast before she made the trek back to Shenzhen airport by 2pm. That meant eating the first meal of the day at around 9.30am.

We headed to Catch on Catchick, which is open for breakfast at 9am and when we got there, a few people were already eating. We took the table by the sidewalk so we could do some people watching while we ate.

Dirty eggs is a hearty option that was also spicy
The breakfast menu looked really solid with many items we wanted to try. In the end we decided to share two egg dishes, avocado on toast with poached eggs (HK$128), and a dish called "dirty eggs", featuring fried eggs with paprika potatoes, avocado, chipotle mayo, melted Cheddar cheese and kidney beans (HK$148)

It's a good thing we shared because the dirty eggs dish was a lot for one person. The avocado on toast with two poached eggs was a very healthy option, and we liked the crusty bread that was used to mop up the runny egg yolk.

Dirty eggs was a spicy option -- a bit more spicier than I expected -- and much heartier. Everything went well together, from the melted Cheddar cheese and avocado with fried potato chunks and more runny eggs. After polishing off these two dishes, we were very full!

Price-wise these breakfast dishes are a bit more on the expensive side, but they kept us fueled for most of the day.

Catch on Catchick
93 Catchick Street
Kennedy Town
2855 1289

Saturday, 24 March 2018

HK$4K Windfall for Whom?

Financial Secretary Paul Chan has yet to clarify how people can get the cash
Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po has finally bowed to public pressure and will now be handing out HK$4,000 to 2.8 million people. The ones receiving this cash handout are those who did not benefit from tax rebates and increased allowances in the budget that was announced late last month.

It will be given to those who are permanent residents aged 18 years and above as of December 31 this year, who do not own property, do not receive any government allowances and will not pay income tax for the financial year ending March 31.

How about a more long-term approach to helping the poor?
However, it's not clear how people can get this money and how are they eligible. Lawmakers are criticizing Chan for not being clear on if people need to apply for this money, or government databases will have them on the list and they just have to wait for the handout.

Ng Wai-tung, a community organizer for the Society for Community Organization said, "The handout does not embody any new fiscal philosophy, but is a one-off measure to cope with the mounting pressure from the political parties."

He believes the scheme will benefit housewives, low-income employees and N-nothing people -- those who earn too much to qualify for subsidized housing or welfare assistance, but not enough to buy their own homes or benefit from tax breaks.

"If the government is devoted to using the fiscal surpluses wisely, why don't they come up with some long-term policies to support these people," Ng said.

What about helping those who think they can't afford a flat?
We have talked about this many times before -- how short-sighted the government is when it comes to long-term initiatives to help give a leg-up to those who are financially challenged, ranging from those who live on less than HK$100 a day to the N-nothing people.

Is the government so blind not to see the reality these people are going through? There are children going hungry daily, while many young people have given up any hope of buying a home here.

Surely the government has given more than enough assistance to the tycoons of this city? It's urgent to address those who are falling through the cracks. Yes, HK$4,000 would help these people immensely from paying off debts to saving a bit for a rainy day. But as many critics have said, this is a pathetic band-aid measure. More needs to be done. Now.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Picture of the Day: Night Sky

Looking out from the Skye bar towards Kowloon
A friend from Beijing is visiting Hong Kong and after dinner in Causeway Bay she asked where we could have drinks outside. My first thought was ToTT's at The Excelsior, but as we were walking there I remembered we should see the Skye rooftop bar and restaurant at The Park Lane Hong Kong.

There was a short wait before we managed to sit outside and enjoy the view. These last few days it's been clear though there will be more clouds on the weekend.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Review: The China Hustle

Dan David goes to Washington to ring warning bells, but no one listens
This documentary is required viewing for anyone who invests in China stocks. That practically means everyone. The producers of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room have made a film that complements The Big Short with a China angle.

The China Hustle talks about how the United States was barely recovering from the financial crisis of 2008-09 and the big stock traders needed to climb out of the red. What did they do? They looked to China.

Meanwhile Chinese companies were looking to the west for legitimacy -- or more importantly, money. How did they do it? Through reverse mergers. Reverse mergers are when a company finds a shell company that is listed on the stock exchange and buys it out but still retains the shell company's public listing. Boom! Overnight it becomes legit. Over 400 Chinese companies have done this in the US.

And with the keen interest in China, investors flocked to these stocks that promised crazy returns. Many people made lots of money, including one of the main characters, Dan David. He lists off several companies where he made 300, 500, 1,000 percent profit. He'd buy stocks at say US$1 and sell at US$5, and so on.

The film asks what is capitalism? Is it good or bad?
But then he gets curious and wonders if he and his partners are just lucky and decided to do some due diligence. He got some people to check out one of these Chinese companies and found that its real production numbers were no where near what it had claimed on paper in its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

They surreptitiously set up cameras from outside the factory compound to monitor the traffic and assumed that there would be tons of trucks coming in and out, but in reality there was hardly anything going on.

One of their researchers posed as a man selling tea and wanted to give a sample to each staff member so he asked the guard outside how many staff there were. He said 40.

So David realized that there could be many more companies taking American investors for a ride and dug up more evidence. He start shorting those stocks and brought down those Chinese companies, and in the process won big.

Jim Chanos has been shorting China stocks for years
He wasn't the only one. There were a handful of others who realized the same thing, but did their research in different ways. That includes Carson Block, who named his company Muddy Waters after the Chinese saying, you cannot fish in clear waters.

The documentary also talks to Jim Chanos, who has called out the Chinese economy to be so laden with debt that it will collapse soon, but we have yet to see that happen. This is perhaps because the Chinese government is desperately trying to keep it all together, so much so that they detain the CEOs of companies and force them to get rid of assets to curb the risks, like in the cases of HNA and Wanda.

In the end these traders believe US$30 billion to US$50 billion was taken from American investors and the film names Chinese CEOs who have disappeared with hundreds of millions of dollars.

Where did that money go?

In real estate, particularly overseas like Hong Kong, Vancouver, New York, Sydney and shopping sprees for jewellery, art, cars, handbags, clothes and so on.

Carson Block of Muddy Waters brought down Sino-Forest
The China Hustle also exposes how the auditors, the SEC, the government, no one is really making these Chinese companies accountable; nor can the American authorities force Chinese CEOs to testify or give back the money. The Chinese government can't punish companies that have listed overseas either. There is no Chinese law against defrauding foreign investors.

Hong Kong gets some scenes in there when David addresses a room full of traders at the Asia Society in Admiralty, persuading them to help him short a Chinese stock. In the end it was his biggest win to date.

In the end, there is a big hint that more investigation needs to be done on Alibaba, though it's difficult to get a clear picture without all the paperwork available. One stock market blog says that even though Alibaba is trying to be more transparent, as of November 15 last year, it was the most heavily shorted stock in the world, with an open short position of US$23.1 billion according to financial analytics firm S3 Partners.

So -- it's a lesson that if something is too good to be true, it is. And we the general public need to be very careful about where we put our money. The China dream is just a mirage...

The China Hustle
Written and directed by Jed Rothstein
82 minutes

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

More Women in Higher Places

Carrie Lam at the annual Democratic Party dinner where she donated money
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has revealed some interesting surprises up her sleeve these past few days.

Yesterday she was the first city leader to donate to the Democratic Party -- Hong Kong's biggest pro-democracy party. At their annual dinner, Cheng donated HK$30,000 of her own money to sponsor former Democratic lawmaker Fred Li Wah-ming as he sang a Cantonese song. Overall the performance raised HK$320,000.

Baroness Lady Hale will be joining the Final Court of Appeal
And then today Cheng announced that for the first time, two female will join Hong Kong's top court to become the first female non-permanent judges in the city's judiciary.

Baroness Brenda Hale of the UK and Beverley McLachlan from Canada were already pioneers in their respective countries to become the first female judges in their top courts.

As a result, the Court of Final Appeal will now have 14 foreign judges. While the appointments are pending approval from the Legislative Council, it is believed local lawyers and lawmakers across the political spectrum are pleased with the news.

Alberta native McLachlan, who is 74, was the first female chief justice of any top court in the British Commonwealth. She retired last December. Lady Hale, 73, is currently president of the UK's Supreme Court. Both are known to have liberal views.

...As will Beverley McLachlan of Canada
Finally Hong Kong's top court is getting with the times and it's fantastic news to have such qualified female judges. Now do they know what they are getting into, that the judiciary is being politicized, mostly by the government, and by extension Beijing?

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

HK Housing Prices Continue to Soar

Can you live in a 209 sq ft home that costs US$1 million?
Just when you think property prices can't get any worse, they do.

A flat slightly bigger than a shipping container has been sold for HK$7.86 million (US$1 million), which is HK$37,651 per square foot. A shipping container is 165 sq ft.

The 209-square foot flat is located on Pokfulam Road in Sai Ying Pun, which is part of an 11-unit development built by Kowloon Development. So far the company has sold 60 percent of the flats at Emerald House that range from 209 sq ft to 310 sq ft and cost as much as HK$11.29 million.

The microflats are being built in Sai Ying Pun
And just as you are shaking your head in disbelief, the latest survey shows that 27 percent of Hong Kong people don't ever expect to own a flat. The survey by REA Group, a digital advertising firm that specializes in property, says of 1,003 respondents carried out by Nielsen, 16 percent have no plan to buy property at all because the prices are beyond their reach.

Home prices rose for the 22nd consecutive month in January. If the average Hong Kong person makes about HK$17,200 per month, it will take them 30 years of monthly income to afford a HK$6 million flat. That means not buying anything, let alone eating anything.

REA Group says this inability to afford housing leads to social issues like couples delaying marriage. And as young people can only afford tiny flats that minimizes the amount of stuff they can have in them, and living in tight quarters can also cause more friction between people. Also having to live in a small place long term is hardly good for one's mental health.

How much stuff can you squeeze into a microflat?
But that's the reality in Hong Kong -- the government isn't doing enough to step in to build social housing, or help young people get their foot in the door to help them towards owning a flat.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po isn't doing much to help this segment of people, only homeowners with a small break of not having to pay government rates for a whole year. Whoohoo.

If he helped more young people move a giant step forward closer to owning a flat, perhaps there would be more optimism in the city -- that there is hope, that they can feel proud of being in the city and feel more welcome as residents.

However it seems the government doesn't have that kind of long-term thinking. It only wants to build an even bigger war chest... for what?

Monday, 19 March 2018

Picture of the Day: Handmade Dumplings

Twenty dumplings filled with minced pork, chives, mushrooms and ginger
I made more dumplings again yesterday and resolved to use some good quality ingredients. I headed to City Super, a high-end supermarket that specializes mostly in Japanese ingredients.

Originally I was only going to get the wrappers because they are refrigerated -- the other supermarkets I have visited put the wrappers in the freezer for some reason. Once they defrost, they are surely soggy? And I've tried the wrappers in the wet market, but they are on the thick side.

I saw that minced pork was 20 percent off and bought half a kilogram that had gone through a very fine grinder. Because it was all one solid pink colour, I couldn't tell if there was any fat in it. So I went to Wellcome to buy more pork with a bit more fat in it as dumplings need that for flavour. It was also half the price...

At the wet market I bought chives, mushrooms and ginger.

It turns out over 750 grams of pork, mixed with chives and finely chopped mushrooms and grated garlic are enough to make 60 dumplings. I followed my mother's instructions and after making four of them I boiled two to check the taste. The pork was on the very lean side (ie not much taste), and unfortunately I ran out of sesame oil so I added more olive oil and Shaoxing wine for flavour.

This time I endeavored to try another method of wrapping them and watched a few YouTube videos to get the gist of how to wrap them in different ways. In the end I settled on making pleats on one side much like gyoza. The wrappers I bought were quite thin so my wrapping wasn't very even, but improved as I went along.

I can't wait to make another batch of dumplings again -- this time with a bit more fattier pork -- because I still have another 60 wrappers in the refrigerator!

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Still Wearing Skirts? It's 2018

Cathay Pacific uniforms have evolved over the years, but not the skirts
It's hard to believe but in 2018, female flight attendants on Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon are asking management to be able to wear trousers as an option for their uniform.

"The stereotype of the flight attendant is very old-style already: looking pretty, full make-up and wearing a skirt. It is a good time to have a revamp of our image," says Vera Wu Yee-mei, chairwoman of the Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants Union, representing 7,200 members.

Wearing skirts in a cold climate is hardly practical
The flight attendants have good reason to ask to wear trousers -- some destinations they fly to can be very cold in the winter -- snow even -- so wearing skirts is hardly practical. And how is wearing skirts a good idea in crisis situations? Hardly seems so.

Oh and also their blouses are on the short side so whenever they reach up, sometimes skin is revealed... it has been an ongoing complaint for years. Doesn't management listen to their concerns? Or was saving money on an extra inch of fabric per blouse an issue more important than someone's dignity?

The job of a flight attendant is hardly glamorous -- serving drinks and meals to passengers strapped in seats for hours on end. There's also the task of cleaning washrooms, and dealing with rude behaviour on the flight.

Hong Kong Airlines also has a skirt-only rule
But Cathay Pacific is hardly the only airline in Hong Kong to have the skirt-only rule -- Hong Kong Airlines and Hong Kong Express also have uniforms where women must wear skirts.

This just proves that men are ruling the boardroom and have no idea or empathy for what their female staff go through on a daily basis. When is this ignorance going to end?

North American and European airlines have allowed female flight attendants the option to wear trousers for years. Surely it's time for Hong Kong to catch up?

Saturday, 17 March 2018

A Secret Garden in Hong Kong

Visitors are given a key... to go where?
At 5pm I made my way up to the Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre for an intriguing art installation that is headed by local artist Kingsley Ng. He always has interesting projects with lots of meaning and significance behind them and are usually executed well, which is why I was keen to check it out.

This latest one is called Secret Garden and it is loosely based on the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett and the wildly popular colouring book by Johanna Basford, and is site specific, as the building used to be the former Victoria Barracks for the families of British soldiers to live in.

The exterior of the Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre
The building underwent renovations in the 1970s to become a government-run place for art classes, and the families that lived here were either moved to Tamar or left Hong Kong. So Secret Garden has a fictional story of three children who discovered a secret garden here and when they had to leave, they promised to come back on the last night.

But what does the last night mean? Ng says it could be June 30, 1997 when the British handed back Hong Kong to China, or it could mean the day the families had to move. The interpretation is open to the visitor, who is led on a 40-minute guided tour through the building to see different aspects of this secret garden.

Ng explained afterwards that he coordinated the project, giving the secret garden theme to several groups of artists who interpreted it in their own way, from books with empty pages, to ceramics to items from our childhood.

Ceramic balls are placed on spotlights with dramatic effect
I don't want to give too much away in terms of what exactly you see in the installation, but it's the various things you see, touch and hear that build up multiple meanings or like a patchwork quilt, create loose connections.

When we visited for the preview it wasn't quite dark, so it'll be better when it starts in earnest tomorrow when it's shown at night.

The first batch of free tickets were snapped up right away, but Ng told me the second batch will be released on Monday March 19 at noon. Check it out at

Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre
7A, Kennedy Road
Hong Kong
(In Hong Kong Park)

Friday, 16 March 2018

Li Ka-shing Exits Stage Right

This afternoon Li Ka-shing (centre) cozies up with reporters for pictures
This afternoon was the earth-shattering announcement we've been waiting for -- tycoon Li Ka-shing is retiring.

In a live broadcast from Cheung Kong Centre, the 89-year-old said after almost seven decades in business, he is stepping down from both CK Hutchison Holdings and CK Asset Holdings and passing the reins to his younger son Victor Li Tzar-kuoi.

This was no surprise, as the younger Li has been working with his father for over 33 years, while older son Richard Li Tzar-kai "has many other businesses".

In a letter to staff that Li addressed them as colleagues, he recalled escaping war-torn China when he was 12 years old and came to Hong Kong. The famous legend of Li selling plastic flowers gave the high school dropout the capital to expand into other businesses, in particular real estate.

Li takes his final bow with son Victor on his right
"Not long afterwards, I founded Cheung Kong, the predecessor of CK Hutchison and CK Asset. That was 1950," he writes. "By 1972 I was able to grow the firm into a publicly-listed company -- stock code 001HK."

Today the conglomerate includes media, hotels, shipping, grocery stores and oil that has dealings in 50 countries.

During his announcement, Li said he would devote time to philanthropy, including the KS-LK Foundation, especially in issues related to healthcare and education.

Li finished his tenure on a high, as the companies, including Power Assets and CKI recorded higher 2017 earnings that largely met market expectations.

However, the tycoon is stepping down at a time when his influence is already waning. In 2013, dock workers went on strike for 40 days, demanding higher pay and better working conditions.

The 2013 dockworkers' strike damaged Li's reputation
At one point they occupied the front entrance of Cheung Kong Centre with a giant picture of Li's face and devil horns coming out of his head. In the end the dockworkers got a 9.8 percent pay rise, but the public's admiration for Li had nosedived because his immense wealth was compared to the lowly dock worker.

Li's reputation further spiraled during the Umbrella Movement a year later when thousands of people occupied the streets in Admiralty, Causeway Bay, Tsim Sha Tsui and Mongkok for 79 days. When it first started, the business elite were silent, and then Li finally spoke.

While he said he understood the protesters "passionate pursuits", he believed they should go home, warning them not to "let today's passion become tomorrow's regret". He knew people would be punished, but underestimated that people did not regret their actions, despite the legal challenges the protest leaders in particular faced.

Li was widely admired in China, but he cashed out anyway
And his relationship with China also soured. Despite pouring millions of yuan into the country, in 2015 Li decided to cash out, which angered Chinese state media and many mainlanders, who felt the businessman was being unpatriotic.

Nevertheless, Li won't be completely retiring. While he will continue to stay on as a senior adviser, it seems Li still wants to keep an active role in the businesses.

When a reporter tried to ask Victor Li a question about the company's future investments, his father interrupted as his son was getting the microphone. "I'll answer for him," Li said.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Picture of the Day: Sevva

How can you not resist photographing this view from the 25th floor?
Today a well known high-end restaurant called Sevva is celebrating its 10th anniversary tonight and its founder Bonnae Gokson held a memorable celebration.

At first it seemed like it was just cocktails but she had other plans up her sleeve. Three Chinese lions appeared to do the traditional dance complete with the cabbage wrapped with lai see (one for each!) and confetti spewed everywhere.

But that wasn't all -- with the brigade of chefs came a singer who would only give us his name as Robert, who used to perform in musicals in London. He belted out Be Our Guest from Beauty and the Beast and Memory from Cats.

Gokson was so relieved the weather cooperated and so are we! The view from the 25th floor of Prince's Building was fantastic.

So here's a panoramic shot from tonight, starting all the way from Victoria Harbour to HSBC headquarters.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

The Ultimate Eye-Roll

Liang Xiangyi (left) encapsulated how reporters feel about the Two Sessions
For journalists covering the Two Sessions (NPC and CPPCC) in Beijing these two weeks, it's a tedious event to cover. Even though important decisions are being made as to how China will be run, ie Chinese President Xi Jinping can theoretically rule for life now, and how departments are being merged for efficiency, they are mostly bureaucratic measures.

And to ensure everything goes smoothly, the government plants questions printed on pieces of paper that are given to specific state media reporters. They are expected to raise their hands in the hopes of being chosen to ask the question so that the official knows exactly what to say and have license to drone on because he loves listening to his own voice.

So this is what happened the other day -- Zhang Huijun of American Multimedia Television USA asked a question to state assets chief Xiao Yaqing about the Belt and Road initiative and it seemed to go on for a while -- over 40 seconds in fact.

Next to her was China Business News journalist Liang Xiangyi, who couldn't help herself and did a major eye-roll. She forgot all the cameras were trained on not only Zhang but her too.

Liang's eye-roll and exasperated looks encapsulated what all journalists felt covering the Two Sessions in seconds.

"Nicely done! You gave an eye-roll on our behalf!" one commenter said.

"I am clapping for your honesty! Such questions are annoying and do not have any meaning," said another.

Her eye-roll immediately sparked memes, people copying her, or superimposing her on top of Xi giving a speech while she does her eye-roll. 

Memes like this cartoon picture of her cropped up online
Despite being praised by many, Liang was soon swiftly punished -- her accreditation to cover the NPC was revoked.

Not only that, but her personal Weibo page was taken down and search results for her name were censored.

Like that she was wiped out of Chinese cyberspace. Liang will probably have to change careers now that she's a persona non grata in the state media industry.

It's a sad and pathetic the Chinese government has to be so controlling of this event in particular, but that only reveals its deep insecurities and its weakness.

Regardless of what happens to Liang, she will be remembered for a long time, as the one who, with her eye-roll, summed up what it's like to cover the Two Sessions.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The play is a faithful adaptation of the book by Mark Haddon
Just saw the UK's National Theatre production of The Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, based on the book of the same name by Mark Haddon. It was performed at the Academy for Performing Arts to a pretty much full house.

The story is about Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old who is on the autism spectrum, but it is not explicitly explained in the book, nor is it in the play, but the audience quickly discovers he doesn't like people touching him, is exceptional at math and cannot tell a lie.

The stage shows how Christopher's mind works
When the play opens, he discovers his neighbour's dog Wellington has been killed and wants to find out who did it, but no one will tell him the truth. That's when he decides to do some detective work and conduct an investigation, which is how he discovers the truth about his parents.

Meanwhile the set is like looking into the inside of a black box that is a grid showing space and time. There are 896 LED lights on the grid and they help illustrate what is going on in Christopher's mind.

The story is quite intense, not only from the amplified noises that someone with autism may hear, but also the conflicts in the story that at times seem impossible to solve. The "strangers" that Christopher encounter don't understand him, and it shows the challenges in dealing with someone with autism.

For Hong Kong this is important for people to see -- there isn't enough awareness of autism here and this play gives me and many others an idea of what it's like -- that anything can trigger screams and inadvertent assaults that are mistaken for violent acts.

Christopher (right) discovers he can't trust his father (left)
As someone who hasn't read the book, the production wasn't as moving as I had hoped, whereas those who have read the novel are happy to see it pretty faithful to the book. Perhaps it was the jarring lights and sound that made it harder to watch, whereas reading the book, the reader would use his or her imagination to empathize with Christopher.

Nevertheless, it was a very interesting play to watch, one that was very physical and creatively used technology to further enhance the audience's experience in watching the play.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Until March 18
Lyric Theatre, Academy for Performing Arts